I was under the assumption that all Tibetan syllables were marked with a tsheg, but now after talking with someone from Tibet, I learn that there are many cases where this is not true, such as pema (པདྨ, notice, no tsheg, but two syllables technically).

I will also note that they said:

Pema can be written in two ways, like པད་མ། and པདྨ།.

So one way does have the tsheg, but the other doesn't. There are many other examples of this. So (a) why isn't it always marked with a tsheg? And (b) how can I tell where the syllable boundary is without the tsheg, are there some rules to determine it or is it more a human-interpretation task that is hard to define (especially hard to define for automatically determining syllable boundaries via a computer)?

1 Answer 1


Your first assumption is largely correct. Native Tibetan words regularly employ the ཚེག་ tsheg (intersyllabic dot) to separate their syllables. However, loanwords, especially those from Sanskrit (henceforth abbreviated Skt.), were sometimes spelled without the tsheg in traditional orthography. I ignore the reason behind such convention, but I would not say this kind of spelling without the tsheg is particularly frequent, as it is mainly seen in words that have a religious connotation, at least as far as I am aware. See for example terms like བུདྡྷ་ buddha "Buddha" (< Skt. बुद्ध​ buddha), པདྨ་ padma "lotus" (< Skt. पद्म​ padma) and ཤུབྷཾ་ shubhaṃ "auspicious" (< Skt. शुभ śubha-), or entire phrases taken from Sanskrit, such as the first line of the Divine Tree Grammar poem: ནམོ་གུརུ་མཉྫུ་གྷོཥཱ་ཡ། namo guru mandzu ghoṣ'a ya "I bow down to my teacher Mañjughoṣa (see Mañjuśrī)" (from Skt. नमोगुरुमञ्जुघोषाय​​ namo guru Mañjughoṣāya).

So, to answer your questions, (a) words that are of Tibetan origin follow normal orthographic rules, which prescribe that syllables must be separated by means of a tsheg, but (b) words of foreign origin (i.e. Sanskrit borrowings) are occasionally exempted from this rule, and can be written without tshegs separating their syllables. Therefore, in order to know which words admit this alternative spelling without the tsheg, you have to be familiar with their etymology.

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